King of California
R1 - America - First Look Pictures
Review written by and copyright: James Teitelbaum (2nd February 2008).
The Film

Sixteen-year-old Miranda (Evan Rachel Wood) lives by herself in a big house in the rolling green hills of southern California. Her mother split many years ago, and her father is in an institution. As she struggles for cash in a fast food restaurant job to keep the bills paid, the verdant landscape is slowly overrun with cheap subdivisions and endless generic chain stores. When her father Charlie (Michael Douglas) comes home from the looney bin, his head is no less filled with wacky delusions than it had been before.

He believes that he has unraveled clues to finding a lost horde of doubloons once belonging to the Spanish explorer Torres. Miranda is skeptical of course, and is also engaged in her ongoing struggle to get through to her nutty and self-absorbed father. She reluctantly tags along with Charlie as he follows the path that Torres explored in 1624. It begins to look like he is actually not so crazy after all, as pointers and clues do in fact show up exactly where expected. As they follow the steps Torres took in the past, the inevitability of the present and the future become ever more clearly underlined. The rocks, valleys, rivers, and trees described in the Spanish explorer's journals have given way to fast food restaurants, housing subdivisions, pet stores, and parking lots. When Miranda and Charlie finally reach the end of the journey, the theoretical treasure is buried and a seemingly impenetrable place. A plan is hatched...

"King of California" is full of rampant product placement, but like the anti-establishmentarian Charlie, it seems that the filmmakers have slipped in a bit of welcome subversiveness, painting their sponsors within the context of the horrifyingly vanilla reality of suburban sprawl, and the equally bland people who inhabit it. This glimpse of paradise lost provides sharp contrast with the free thinking and the spirit of adventure that have vanished into the past. However, by halfway through the film, this idea is abandoned, in favor of a far less interesting one. Wood's sentimental voiceover sets the tone for the movie which forgets its message and simply becomes a drama about a world-wise daughter taking care of a childish father (with a little bit of a twisted take on the heist movie mixed in).

Aside from the voiceover, the movie does barely dodge going overboard into mawkish sentimentality, which is a tough trap to avoid in a movie like this one. Wood's performance is fairly milquetoast, but Douglas acquits himself admirably as the crazy Charlie. He resists the urge to either go over the top and play the part too broadly, or to go for the typical 'crazy guy' laughs. Charlie, as portrayed by Douglas, isn't so much stark raving insane as he is just significantly enough off kilter to make things difficult between him and his daughter (and society). "King of California" is a fine movie, but I think that it could have managed to tell both of the stories that the first half seemed to want to be telling, rather than jettisoning the more intriguing of the two in favor of something less topical and fresh.

Video

The film is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, enhanced for 16x9 televisions. The running time is 1:33:13. The transfer is clean and free of any notable print damage. Film grain is minimal, as are compression artifacts. Aside from a few wide shots of the hilly green landscape, this isn't a film that attempts to dazzle the viewer with images. The perfectly acceptable but never flashy camerawork on display is transferred to the medium of DVD just fine.

Audio

"King of California" is presented in English 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround. Subtitles are in English and Spanish. As a character piece, the dialogue is right up front in the mix, with ambient effects kept to the essentials, and the musical score filling out the edges of the mix. Pop songs keep things lively and aren't usually unbalanced to the point of inspiring a grab for the volume control.

Extras

First Look have included an audio commentary, a featurette, outtakes, a theatrical trailer plus a collection of bonus trailers. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

First up is an audio commentary with writer/director Mike Cahill, cinematographer Jim Whitaker, production designer Dan Bishop, and first assistant director Richard L. Fox. The scene specific commentary is a bit dry, as Cahill isn't a very engaging speaker. He points out some rather disappointing things, such as that executives from the fast food restaurant that Wood's character works in suggested (with success) that she name-drop the name of the restaurant. When execs from fast food chains are changing the script then that means trouble. This restaurant also has a dummy location used for commercials, films, and television productions. Not surprisingly, it is located in City of Industry, California. You can look it up.

Next is "The Making of King of California", a featurette that runs for 9 minutes 55 seconds, this is your basic promotional featurette. Interviews with the cast and crew are mixed with on-set footage and memorable scenes from the film.

Outtakes runs for 4 minutes 40 seconds and is the standard blooper reel, with the cast flubbing their line and props malfunctioning.

Also included is the film's original theatrical trailer which runs for 2 minutes.

A collection of bonus trailers wraps things up and includes:

- "The Amateurs" which runs for 1 minute 56 seconds.
- "Day Zero" which runs for 1 minute 28 seconds.
- "Smiley Face" which runs for 1 minute 21 seconds.
- "The Contract" which runs for 1 minute 55 seconds.
- "Ten Items Or Less" which runs for 2 minutes 36 seconds.
- "Journey to the End of the Night" which runs for 1 minute 57 seconds.
- "The Proposition" which runs for 2 minutes 24 seconds.
- "Relative Strangers" which runs for 2 minutes 10 seconds.
- "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints" which runs for 2 minutes 31 seconds.
- "Paris Je T'aime" which runs for 2 minutes 26 seconds.

Overall

The Film: B Video: A Audio: A Extras: B- Overall: B+

 


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